December 17, 2008
Our sojourn in Newcastle ended Thursday 11th, when Sea Eagle was again fit to go to sea.Insurance sorting took time, finally resolved by assessor Michael, who came and saw and questioned and assessed and adjudicated, for part value of the wind generator, radar and wind instrument.A new wind generator was installed with the help of electrical engineer Kevin, but the temporarily-repaired wind transducer at the top of the mast refused to work, despite four trips to the top of the mast. We manage with the low-technology Windex instead. Radar and new wind instrument must wait until Sea Eagle is back in Brisbane.Our tentative plans to sail a long way south were by now out of time-range, so we decided on the Sydney area instead.Early Thursday 11th, with overcast skies and maybe drizzle, but with a forecast south-easterly wind at 10 to 15 kt, we motored out of Newcastle harbour, following a very large, laden, coal ship with three tugs to help it, and then meeting, just outside the entrance marker, another very large, but unladen, coal ship on the way in, the three tugs awaiting. Sea Eagle bounced and rocked her way into the wind, waves and swell until we were well offshore and able to head south west and sail towards Sydney. Newcastle is Australia’s major coal-exporting port, and there were at least 25 ships awaiting loading, anchored in the bay and most of the way down the coast in our path. Interesting navigation under the low-visibility conditions. The pilot’s VHF channel was busy, talking of pilots-ferried-by-helicopter rather than boat. Modern!Entering Broken Bay, at 33deg 34S, 151deg 20E in the evening, at last gave respite from the uncomfortable seas and we nosed into America’s Bay, at 33deg 35,7S, 151deg 15,2E and tied up to an unused mooring for the night. Peace, surrounded by gum tree lined hills.Next morning we established that there was a mooring available at Parsley Bay, just a few miles north, round the corner from the Hawkesbury River Marina, (see pics) and we were shown to a strong one by Earl, the marina’s manager. We stayed there for a few days, to utilise the train service at Hawkesbury River station, just a short walk away.Friday dawned wet and windy, so we took the train/bus to Orange, to visit M’s brother Philip. The hoped-for view from the train through the mountains wasn’t. Too much rain and fog!Phil was as hospitable as always, and amongst other things, took us to the Jenolan Caves, a labyrinth of enormous caves and grottos, (see pics), which would have taken a week to explore fully. Amazing. Millions of years of drips, stalagtites and stalagmites.Back on Sea Eagle on Monday evening to find a dud bilge pump and near-flatted batteries.Amazingly, Greg, at Brooklyn Marina had a 24 volt pump, which was duly installed. That used up Tuesday.Wednesday dawned perfect summer, (at last!), so we took a dingy-cruise up (a very small part of) the Hawkesbury River. Under the Railway bridge, (see pic) which is too low for sailboats, and on and on and on. Enormous river, wide and deep with tributaries. Many oyster farms, which we didn’t see much evidence of because of an exceptionally high tide. Even the notices were half-submerged. Lunch was taken onshore in the shade of a glade of gum trees, curtailed when a threatening front, (see pic) rushed over the sky. Weather moves fast here, but we reached home before the rain came.Today, Thursday, we are off to Sydney, to visit friends and relations.
November 30, 2008
After conferring with most helpful met-man Reg (?) on monday afternoon, we decided to ‘enjoy’ the good calm weather, with little wind forcast for tuesday, on the Island, and leave on wednesday, early, with a northeasterly to push us back to the mainland.Tuesday morning dawned fine, still heavy rollers breaking on the reef and choppy in the lagoon. Three other sailboats left on the high tide; to Tasmania, to New Zealand and to Sydney. They wallowed and pitched their way slowly into the distance. We went ashore. We walked. We explored the ‘bush’. We snorkelled in the shallow water at Neds Beach and fed the fish, tame as pets, who had grown enormous on a regular diet of stale bread every day, by the tourists. We arranged with Richard, Police and Customs, who had escorted us in, to escort us out again and then returned to Sea Eagle to prepare for sailing.Early up and ready when Richard called on the VHF. He decided that the tide was high enough and that we were competent enough to not need escorting, but he would guide us from the shore. We retraced our route, heading just west of two tall Norfolk pines, and then sharp to starboard with the pines lined up astern. A navigating ancestor had planted those trees many years ago to mark the channel, and there they stand, tall and perfectly aligned. No grounding, no worries and out to deep water and ‘thankyou and see you next time’. We headed south to begin with, to round the extraordinary Balls Pyramid, rising near-vertically 700 meters. Thousands upon thousands of seabirds, wheeling in the air and fishing in the turbulent waters where the ocean currents met the rock. We hoisted sail in the lee of the rock and headed WSW, goal Broken Bay and Pittwater, just north of Sydney. Plenty of wind for partially-reefed sails and Sea Eagle, and we, thrived. Marks on the chart for 4-hour runs showed excellent progress until the evening when the wind gradually died away to nothing at 2 am and the engine was started.Thursday at 11, there was enough wind from the north to just fill the sails, and then it gradually strengthened. Off engine and new good progress. That night the wind gradually increased, first to 20 kt and we reduced sail by taking down the mizzen, then to 30 kt in the gusts and more reefing. Big swells from the NE meant a very rolypoly ride. The autopilot couldn’t cope so we hand-steered. It was very dark, no stars to steer by! Then the wind vane and speed transmitter at the top of the mast decided it had had enough, and turned upsidedown. Confusing information. Two-hour sessions at steering were quite enough. An overcast dawn brought some relief, and gradually brighter weather raised our spirits.16:00 Friday, wind inadequate to maintain 4 kts speed so decided to help with the engine. It wouldnt’t start! John tried everything, but the symptoms were of low batteries, whichever battery was tried. Odd, since we’d had the engine on several hours yesterday. We’ve experienced this before, twice. Sail on and ponder. Without the wind generator we would risk having no electrical power at all soon, so it was back to hand sailing, in the dark, with only the masthead light showing. No ships in sight luckily. No power also means no pumps for water etc. Saturday morning the wind died again, and John dismantled the startmotor to see if the problem lay there. It had obviously been very hot, but apparently otherwise OK. A rather amusing scene in retrospect. Sea Eagle still rolling and pitching well. John, sitting on the floor wedged in one corner of the wheelhouse, with startmotor-pieces in a sheet between his knees, and Margaret in the opposite corner catching tools and pieces which escaped. A thorough clean didn’t help, and still no start-life.We ghosted on towards the coast. Or goal would be very tricky without an engine, so we decided to head for Newcastle, where there probably was tow-help. VHf contact established about twenty miles out and, yes, Coastal Patrol could tow us from inside the harbour entrance, (their limit), to the marina. Relief! Thundery, unstable weather produced variable-direction strong winds and much rain, and we raced towards Newcastle. In sight of the of the seawall a major storm blotted out everything, including the wind. When the rain cleared, we could see Coastal Patrol, and they could see us. We chatted over the VHF while they patiently waited for Sea Eagle to drift round the entrance marker and at last within reach. Di, a robust and authoritative lady, was in charge, effectively. Slowly past pubs and restaurants on the waterfront, in full Saturday-night raucousness. The cross-harbour ferry passed our bows, and one passenger decided he could get to the beer quicker by swimming and hopped overboard. Di was not impressed!19:00, Saturday 29 november, we tied up to the end of A-arm in Newcastle Yacht Club Marina. We had arrived! Lots of information from Di, and following heartfelt thanks to her and her two crew, all volunteers, we did a quick wash-and-brush-up and retired to a good meal in the pub across the road. By 21:30 we were in bed and soundly asleep.
November 23, 2008
Sunday 23 nov: Drama yesterday. A thunderstorm developed over the north mountains in the afternoon and grew and blew and crashed and flashed and rained and then suddenly blasted us. For about a quarter of an hour everything howled and shrieked, water was blown off the surface of one meter high waves, (this in the lagoon, remember) and visibility was down to a few meters. Ready to start the engine if the mooring broke, but it held, although our two ropes were tight as wires. We held on tight too. Gradually things returned to sanity and no damage to Sea Eagle, her rigging, or us, but the wind generator had lost two of its three blades and was hanging from its cable. The book said that it was designed for 100 miles per hour. Ah well. (see picture)Later on, after a period of merely strong winds, during which John went for a snorkellswim to find blades and found the remains of the tailfin, conditions slowly deteriorated during the evening with the approach of a cold front, with lightning in the clouds all over the western sky. The wind gusted to at least 52 knots on the instrument, when we spared it a glance, the effects of local whirling spirals of wind and spray. Most dramatic. And wet. And noisy! The front withdrew gradually eastward and things calmed down enough by midnight to let us sleep. This morning we woke to brilliant sunshine, little wind, rolly swell and apparent all benign again.
November 21, 2008
We’re still here! The weather has been quite un-summerly, with strong, cool winds and yesterday, heavy rain.News on the radio the last few mornings has been of heavy storms on the mainland, with particularly the Brisbane area getting severely hit by damaging winds, rain and hail. Out here in the ocean we have luckily missed the worst, but no way are we heading back to the mainland yet. Pundits are now carefully hinting that the long-lasting drought may be over in some areas. Reservoir levels have stopped falling.The rain had one benefit, we were able to fill up the water tank with delicious, clean water. Showers again!Lord Howe Island relies exclusively on collecting rainwater for its supply, as there are no reliable streams, and the salt level in borewater is too high. Every house has huge 6000 liter green plastic tanks, fed from substantial roof guttering and pipes. With no rain for nearly six months one recent summer, everyone was very water-worried.We did the Island Tour yesterday. Postmaster Peter drove his minibus slowly around and kept up a continual stream of information as to who, where, what and when. Discovered in 1788 by a Royal Naval vessel, and first settled in 1870’s by a member of a whaling ship who saw an opportunity to supply whaling ships coming in to find water, fresh produce and a bit of rest. First developed as a tourist oasis after WW2, and served by two Short Sandringham flying boats, the last in service in 1974 after twenty one years. Postmaster Peter very knowledgable about all the aircraft, (photos in the Museum), including Francis Chichester’s epic flight in 1935(?) in a Gypsy Moth on his way round the world. A sudden storm capsized the aircraft at its mooring, and it took months to fix before flying on. Ten minibus passengers with info-full heads after four hours. Highlight, for some, was witnessing the daily weather balloon release, in a gale force wind and low cloud. Even a two meter diameter balloon was out of sight in a short minute. The met man was pessimistic. We’ll visit him soon and get some long-range wind predictions.Cold and windy weather has meant no swimming or snorkelling. Even the glass-bottomed boats have mostly remained tugging at their moorings. Water temperature is a measly 22 degrees. Getting anywhere, to the snorkelling places, or ashore, is a very wet experience. Short, stubby rubber dingy in short, choppy waves and strong, gusty wind makes for much spray. Changes of clothing needed, tightly packed in layers of plastic bags. This PC gets the submersible-to-five-meters treatment on its way to and from the Museum and the internet connection.The wind has backed to the north west after the rain-front passed and the two high mountains, Gower and Lidgbird at the south end of the island have got their lenticular cloud hat again.Saturday 22 nov: Clear, calm starlit night last night and back to blowing this morning. Visited the Met man yesterday afternoon to get a wind and weather prognosis. Looks like we have a window to get back to the mainland starting early tuesday morning. So we’ll read more books.
November 19, 2008
Wednesday afternoon, 12 November, the forecast in weather and wind looked more in our sailing-favour, with a four day window of more northerly winds and less of them. All was prepared and we up-anchored at 07:45 thursday morning, one hour before high tide. Although near high tide, there was still a strong current flowing into the river and the entrance was turbulent but easily navigable. We were greeted by a school of dolphins surfing on the waves coming in, and we proceeded out round the northern breakwater, the same way we had come in.A mile or two offshore and well outside the sand bar and its breaking waves, we hoisted sails, turned off the engine to glorious stillness and headed on port tack south and as much east as Sea Eagle would permit into the easterly wind, which wasn’t much. What with that and the strong south-going Australian East Coast Current, of about 2,5 kt, (those who have enjoyed the Nemo film will relate), we made rapid progress at almost right angles to the line to Lord Howe.The winds backed gradually, as forecast, and Sea Eagle began to head towards our goal.Old swell and conflicting seas up to three meters were pretty bumpy and getting around the boat was a series of rushes to the next hand-hold, gaining ‘boat-bites’ (bruises) on the way. We settled into the ‘passage routine’, taking it in turns to make the next cuppa, with Margaret magically producing nourishing (pre-cooked in harbour) meals eaten out of a deep bowl, all done at about 20 to 25 degrees angle, but with the rolling and pitching motion superimposed.Roughly four-hour watches, variable as to who was most awake, became the routine, with virtually no variation in wind or weather. After the first day there was nothing to be seen and we were alone from horizon to horizon, our nav-lights shining in the night to no avail. On port tack, the genoa is illuminated by the starboard, green, nav-light, and if anyone had seen us, we must have looked a pale ghostly sight.Through friday night and a lot of saturday, the wind varied from 20 kt down to 5-7 at times, and we were kept busy. Saturday, after sunset, the wind was fickle for a few hours, and we ran the engine, both to keep moving and to charge the batteries. Later, enough wind to speed up again and sail towards our goal well ahead of the 10 am high tide at LH. We communicated both with Iluka/Yamba Coastguard and with Lord Howe Maritime on the HF radio at scheduled 07:15 and 19:15, sometimes with the relay-help from another passage-maker with better reception, and could report our position, heading good for Lord Howe, and that all was well.7 am sunday saw us pottering off spectacular Lord Howe Island, on the leads, and being greeted by Lord Howe radio operator on the VHF. Lord Howe has an enormous lagoon encircled by a half-moon of mountains, this morning with a belt of low cloud around their middles and a lenticular hat on each top. Fantastic sight. The lagoon is all shallow, so with 2,2 meters of draught, Sea Eagle had to be escorted in, just before high tide. We were led to a spot with very secure moorings, with enough water to float at low tide. A welcoming chat with the escort, Lord Howe Police and Customs, Richard, with friends, a large envelope of useful information, and then we were left alone to collect our wits and plan our day. Position: 31 deg 32,25 S 159 03,0 E. (We’re now only just over twenty degrees to yesterday!)It was time for a celebratory swim. John only. Margaret thought it might be too cold. (24 degrees).Then into the dingy and a splashy quarter of an hour later we were ashore and exploring the ‘city’(as a French woman heard on the VHF had called it, zer sitty). Permanent population about 250. Past the dive and snorkelling boatsheds to the Bike-Hire shop, the place to pay for the mooring, but we were generously asked to come back, maybe wednesday, to pay. On further to the Museum, (we’ll study that another day), which has a good coffee-shop and an internet connection, so we sent some ‘arrived safely’ messages, and later this blog.
November 11, 2008
Thursday 6th November we walked in to Grafton town and bought fresh fruit and veg from the street market. Straight from the growers. Keep much longer if they haven’t been refrigerated. Then back to the boat and prepare for a midday start back down the river. The book by Alan Lucas, "Cruising the NSW Coast" is an invaluable guide, and includes the Clarence, with recommended courses and depths. There is one stretch, at Lawrence, which is nail-bitingly shallow for about a mile, and it is important to get there on a rising tide, at or near half tide. (Leaves a few decimeters of tide to float you off again if you ground). No problems, we followed Lucas’, and our Yamba friend Peter’s advice, and arrived back at Maclean at teatime, to tie up behind Andy and his little yappy guard dog, who were still there.
Next morning, after filling up with water, to the brim, and some fresh yoghurt, milk and fresh bread, we left Macklean with Andy helping us to cast off in a strong current aft, and arrived at the Harwood bridge at the agreed time of 11:00, The red light came on, the traffic stopped and the lifting part slowly rose to our mast height plus a bit, and we were green-lighted, and waved through. Two blokes wished us good luck and the bridge returned to road-normal.
Three and a half gentle and sunny, though windy, hours later we were back negotiating the tricky entry to Yamba marina, this time on a rising tide and no getting stuck! We’d got fed up with not getting the matresses dry and had ordered new ones over the phone from a very service-minded Caroline, at Yamba Furniture, whose Reginald delivered to the dock and carried on board. Wonderful!
We then wended our way back out the tricky bit, still near high tide, and puttered across the river to Iluka Harbour, where we anchored, once in a wrong place, "the guy on that mooring beside you is on his way back", and once in a right one. Shallow water but good holding mud we were told.
Friday evening we had fish and chips in the RSL club just up from the landing jetty. The fish was fresh, the trawler harbour is right next door. The portions were enormous, one would have been enough for two! On the way back to the boat the next disaster – the outboard slowed to a halt. Margaret had to row against the wind back to boat. Next day revealed that dirt and dusty rubber in the fuel system. After a thorough clean (ugh! petrol tastes nasty) and a new hose connection it was back in action.
Saturday was my birthday and Margaret produced a delicious steak dinner on board, on deck as the evening was warm, though windy. John dressed for the occasion, see picture.
Sunday we cut the matresses to size and hand sewed covers and then took the dingy ashore. Margaret to take advantage of the washing machines at the caravan park, and John to work on the upturned dingy it to try and find the leaks. Margaret had done a major refurbishing job back in Brisbane, stopping almost all the leaks, and was most disappointed that there were still some. Seams between an aluminium bottom and the rubber pontoons are difficult at the corners, and we found possible places for the water to seep through. Lots of glue and the drying sunshine later resulted in near-success. Takes a longer journey to get wet feet now.
We have waited out the weather. Four days now, this is Tuesday, we are still waiting. It has blown hard, gale force from the south, with showers. We are filling in time reading to the accompaniment of the "howling banshee" (our wind generator) – at least we are keeping the batteries charged. Sea Eagle dragged her anchor yesterday afternoon in the worst of the blow, luckily this time in the daytime, (three years ago we were here and it all happened at night!) and we had an exciting few minutes re-anchoring, this time with much more chain out. Permanent anchor watch for the rest of the day.
The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting that the winds will drop this evening and go round to the NE, so conditions may well be OK to leave tomorrow morning. Goal is Lord Howe Island, ca 320 nm to the ESE, a three day trip, maybe more if the winds are unkind. No mobile phones on LHI we understand, but ‘landlines’ and an internet cafe. We’ll be in touch.
November 02, 2008
We left Yamba at high tide carefully following the leads to avoid any more sandbanks, through the "Hole in the Wall" and up the Clarence River to the Harwood Bridge. Here we anchored until 4pm for the bridge to be opened. This bridge is part of the main north south Pacific Highway and the bridge operator travels 1 hour each way to open the bridge for yachts on demand! We motored through and on to Maclean where we tied up at the Public Pontoon – right in the centre of town with free water and electricity! We just squeezed on next to an elderly gentleman called Andy on his yacht "Invictus" with a couple of friends. We invited them for drinks and spent an enjoyable evening chatting. Next morning we woke to a rainy day, so stayed put and had a lazy day, then a walk to the lookout (about 3 km up the steep hill behind town) with splendid views towards the coast and inland.
On Tuesday we left Maclean on the incoming tide to reach the shallowest point of the river at Lawrence after mid-tide and on to Grafton where we anchored just before the Grafton Bridge in time to watch the Melbourne Cup!! This is as far as one can sail up the Clarence River.
Next day after watching the American elections live on TV, we took a walk into town. Unfortunately we missed the Jacaranda Festival by a few days, but the trees were still a picture!
October 31, 2008
A roller coaster ride at the entrance to the Clarence River brought us into calm waters and the prospect of a friendly marina at Yamba. But oh dear, we’d forgotten that New South Wales was now on daylight saving time and the time for Low Water given us by the friendly Coastguard was one hour closer. We came in almost at the bottom of the tide and the map shows where Sea Eagle took a four-hour rest on the mud, within 200 meters of the jetty. "There’s many who get stuck there" was no help really. Embarrasment again. But there were many onlookers onshore who took pictures of a large sailboat heeling at 25 degrees, and who waved back. We came unstuck in the evening and tied up alongside "Coral Sea", skipper Peter, who turned out to be the helpful voice on the VHF at Iluka/Yamba. He’d tried to get the Coastguard to come and tow us off, but they couldn’t start their vessel (flat battery). Ah well, it’s comforting to know that others have problems too.
Next day it blew, hard, from the south, so we stayed put, washed and dried all our bedding, and took much good advice from Peter as to how to navigate the Clarence River, to Grafton, our next goal.